Excerpted from a conversation about transformative technologies and practices and their individual and cultural effects, with sociologist Harley Bergroth, currently researching his PhD at the University of Turku, Finland, and iAwake’s CTO and sound energy artist, Javi Otero, creator of Fractal Entrainment, a method of using sound energy to resonate the whole body.
Harley: Could you give me a little introduction to iAwake [Technologies]?
Javi: iAwake might initially seem like one of many companies in the market, making and selling brainwave entrainment products, but I think there are two fundamental things that set us apart from the others. One is the focus of the work, which is on helping people heal and reach a fuller potential. iAwake shares a lot of quality information on how to do that and offers real and dedicated support. The second thing I find quite unique about iAwake is that we are also stretching the envelope—we’re not just doing binaural beats or isochronic tones in the usual way, we have advanced the technology quite nicely, creating a few new branches. One such is my personal work on Fractal Entrainment, which is a novel technology with a different take on harnessing sound energy for transformation. We also offer what is called biofield entrainment, which was developed by Eric Thompson, our former CTO. And, we’re fortunate to have the offerings of a bunch of excellent developers who are all doing their own special thing. Recently, we’ve even created the first chant album ever infused with resonant entrainment technology—a very nice and unique combination. If this was a record label, I suppose our catalogue would be a very eclectic and avant-garde one (laughs).
Harley: Cool. Another important aspect that I spotted on the website is something I think is more common in transformative tech in general—the idea of evolution, or spiritual growth, or making the world a better place, if you will. Is this idea something that is very strongly present in the products’ communication as in how they are marketed, or how they are explained to people?
Javi: Very much so. At iAwake there is a strong emphasis on growing, on developing. The products are marketed from the perspective of users who may not necessarily be looking for that, because we get people from all walks of life. But it’s kind of clear that if you want to take your life to the next level, optimize, or heal parts of yourself, or if you want to be on a journey with sound, not only can you use most of the products that are in the catalogue but also the rich information that you find on the website. Also, we give a lot of support in various ways: there is a live weekly call happening every Wednesday, where people can share anything related to their practice or ask any questions they might have, and the call recordings are archived so people can listen to the sessions any time they like. They can also send emails with their doubts or inquiries, and there’s no limit here—if someone needs me to respond ten times, I’ll do that, whether they have purchased any products or not.
Harley: In your experience, what kind of things are people most concerned about—is it productivity, or work-life balance and stress management, or matters of everyday life? What kinds of things pop up the most?
Javi: We get a bit of everything. There are definitely those who are more into productivity—they realize they could use their energy better, or there might be something lacking in the way their days go by. They might predominantly want tech that helps them excel or relax better, so they can be productive when it’s time. There are also quite a number of people who are more after growth or self-development and healing, or looking to deepen their awareness and/or spiritual practices.
Some want to start a meditation practice, and they realize that sound can help them. Others want to deepen their current practices. But sooner or later, I believe, if you use what we call transformative technology long enough—maybe I should say if it’s being really transformative and you stick to it—at some point, you will start seeing changes and needing things beyond just optimizing your time and your energy. As you can well imagine, I have nothing against optimizing time and energy. That’s just been my experience: many of us start from a productivity angle and soon reach deeper layers that also need be taken care of.
Harley: So you already told me that a personal crisis was a motivation for you to really get into transformative technologies, but could you say a little more about what consciousness hacking or transformation in this sense means to you?
Javi: The way I see this whole thing is that when we reach adulthood, we do so not only unaware of how hypnotized we all are by our personality biases (see the Enneagram for more on this), but loaded with things that don’t really belong to us, whether these are values we inherited from our parents or caregivers, or that were imposed upon us by cultural agreements, social or political agendas, etc. There are quite a lot of layers to this, and they are not necessarily aligned with what each of us needs, but something that we have been somehow encouraged, even forced to comply with.
There are also many aspects to our lives we don’t even want to consider, because they are part of what’s called shadow in psychology—they are unacceptable, again to our parents, or caregivers, or society in general, or even to ourselves for some (usually biographical) reason. So most of us, if not all, push these things to the unseen (to the point that we’re not even aware of them anymore), and all these unhealed, self-imposed limitations stop us from reaching our full potential and make us repeat patterns in which we react with a very narrow scope of possibilities, often automatically.
These shadow elements are often the key to our health, and if left unattended they just hinder our well-being. There have always been many different methods for doing work on ourselves, and now we are starting to include modern technology for “consciousness hacking,” which as I said might start for some as a physiological take on transformation, yet since all is interwoven, will eventually impact their psychology, values, behavior, spirituality, and so on. That´s how I see it, maybe because of the work that we do at iAwake.
Harley: Do you see these “hacking” terms (consciousness hacking, biohacking, lifehacking) as appropriate ways of describing this process of self-development?
Javi: Well, if I had to do a profile now on a new media platform, for example, I would not say I am a biohacker, or a life hacker, but I would be interested in meeting people who have used these labels in their profiles. In other words, maybe it’s a modern way of saying self-development, without whatever negative connotations may be attached to the term and with a slightly different emphasis—a more neutral term for what optimizing your life might be about, or optimizing your biology, or your happiness or productivity, or whatever it is. Personally, I think it’s simply a “cool” way to say the same thing, but using contemporary computer jargon. But I might be wrong (laughs).
Harley: So, trendy concepts, perhaps.
Javi: That’s a completely personal opinion—there are sectors of the population who are not going to be interested in growth or even consider that it’s at all possible. They might, however, be really interested in gadgets that track how well they sleep, and trackers that measure breathing patterns or heart coherence to name a few. Maybe they’d just like to be able to make the most of their days, feel better, and become better students, workers, parents, or whatever they are. But in my experience and that of many others I am familiar with, in order to truly transform your biology or productivity or happiness, you must go through what’s usually called growth or healing—no matter how uncomfortable these terms might initially sound to you.
Harley: You said earlier that this kind of work on the self is a lot about recognizing what kinds of cultural weights lay upon us—cultural or social norms and values and whatever—so do you think that there is some kind of a true self that we are able to find, through which we would be truly free of these social or cultural aspects?
Javi: Yes, I think so. I mean, I don’t know if we can ever become truly, 100% free of all that, but I know for a fact that we can surely overcome some of our programming. Doing the work makes you end up accepting things you would never have thought you could. And this transforms you, because it opens up the scope of things that you can consider, think, do, feel, engage in. I guess it’s a lifelong process—I don’t think that I’ll ever be completely free from the shackles of all this, but I have experienced that it’s possible—to a tangible and surprising degree—definitely.
Harley: I am interested in hearing your thoughts on the future of transformative tech, your expectations, and your possible fears for the future for this field.
Javi: Something that is coming and that I’m looking forward to is technology that will adapt to individual needs in real time. For example, imagine you have a pair of headphones measuring your brain waves while you listen to entrainment tracks. You start a session, and the program “knows” you are predominantly in high beta (because you are really worried or overanxious or ruminating), so it tries to “pull you down” to alpha. Depending on how deep you go into alpha, the program might start feeding you some theta, or get back to alpha if it notices that you’re not really open to more yet, and so on. This tech could automatically do a quick baseline measurement before you begin your session, and so really meet you where you are at and deliver stimuli according to how the session unfolds, or according to whatever you specified you were after if it was a training session. This example is based on brain waves but there are many more markers and possibilities that would work beyond the one-size-fits-all kind of approach we’ve been forced to use up until now. I think this could be a game changer.
The other thing I would love to see—I’m waiting for a real revolution in this field—is something that goes well beyond what is happening now and takes whatever being human is about to the next level. That would be awesome, and especially if it manages to reach large numbers of people and truly change our current paradigm—not just for the innovators and early-adopters who can afford it, which is probably the case now.
I do have my doubts about transformative technology if the focus continues to be on feeling good only. Don’t get me wrong, I love feeling good… it feels great! (laughs), but I think becoming whole is a different thing altogether than simply feeling good. It’s lovely to access any and all states, but I’d like to see the emphasis be more on growth. We are alive, and so have a great deal of growing to get done!
Harley: Yes, there exists some very good social scientific literature on this kind of “happiness industry” that you refer to, so when we talk next time, I can give you some sources.
Javi: Please do. As you say, there is a happiness industry, and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially when you’re really messed up, unmotivated, or sad… then it can be of amazing help. It’s like television. I don’t even have one at home, because I consider it boring and even damaging in a way, but I can see the value for my mother-in-law, who recently lost her husband. When she comes back from work, she puts the telly on and feels entertained.
Harley: And doesn’t have to feel alone.
Javi: That’s right. And I’m nobody to judge that, even though the content she is exposed to is really poor. You know, the values that are inherent in those kinds of shows, the stories that are told, the overemphasis on the negative and fear-based kind of paradigm that is ever present in the media—all that stops people from trusting and believing in what’s possible.
So if this technology could create a bit of a revolution in that sense, and people were interested in becoming more whole and more human on their own terms (not on mine) (laughs), with an approach that favors entrainment as much as entertainment, that would be amazing. Because at the moment, it seems this whole culture is based on suppressing symptoms, and we all know how counterproductive that can be in the long run. Take pharmaceuticals, for example. Having really advanced tech that is going to replace pharmaceuticals, but is deep down operating from the same principle of symptom suppression, would be such a loss. I think there are very important lessons that we need to learn in order to become more understanding, capable, loving… human, if you will, and it’s important to let them happen, no matter how uncomfortable this might be at times.
So I’ve got mixed feelings about it, because I don’t know where it’s heading. Seeing what happened with computers in nearly two decades, I can only start to imagine what can happen with this incipient industry—there could be some mind-blowing stuff, but if it’s not conducted in a way that honors depth, it might end up doing more harm than good.
Harley: Yes, I think it’s an important aspect of any technology that you cannot really know much of what it’s going to do to the world in advance. Like when television came out, few expected the various ways in which it would transform political campaigning or babysitting practices, for example. Technology is inherently surprising and has always really changed the world in unforeseen ways.
Javi: Exactly. We are now at a moment of time when there is a possibility that an increasing number of people will see, use, design and conceive technology—not just from a mere practical or financially viable perspective like it’s been so far, but from a more sustainable and humanistic angle. I think that would make room for a very much-needed paradigm change, whereas if this wasn’t the case, we would see similar kinds of stagnant forces to what we see now, just differently dressed (with more advanced technology). That would be quite sad, I think. It would mean that we had lost a lot of potential that could have been used for helping many dreams come true.
Harley: Great, Javi. Thank you so much for your time.
Javi: You are very welcome. I loved the questions… they are food for thought. I am always thankful for any opportunity to reflect, and hope we’ve created something interesting for others here, too.
Harley Bergroth is writing his PhD on technology-mediated body optimization and self-development practices, with a special focus on the everyday use of contemporary digital biofeedback technologies and, in a wider sense, the employment of a wide array of devices and technological applications that may be called “transformative technologies.”
He is always interested in talking to more people who have engaged in transformative practices, either with biofeedback tech or through other transformative techniques and technologies. If you would like to share your experiences with transformative technologies and participate in this research, you can contact him directly at [email protected].
Javi Otero is iAwake’s Chief Technology Officer and is introducing new and experimental entrainment protocols developed through his ongoing research on further harnessing the power of sound energy. He also offers experiential support with iAwake products, sound technology expertise, and sometimes lends his lyrical hand at writing for iAwake.